I got my first electric guitar, a Fender Musicmaster (with a silverfaced Fender Champ) around 1981 or 82, I think. For the next three or four years, spent 2 to 3 hours a day trying to learn songs off of a few key records that I had, including:
- Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy (The Who; horrible name—wait, an awesome name!)
- Still Life (Rolling Stones live record)
- For Those About to Rock (AC/DC)
- Moving Pictures (Rush)
- Under a Blood Red Sky (U2)
Let me try to paint a picture of this process for you. Because there was no iTunes or YouTube, all this woodshedding had to be done physically.
Prepare to play.
Drop the needle (or maybe, if you were lucky, hit play on the cassette player).
Listen, try to play along (God help you if they weren’t perfectly in tune).
Try to work out what you got wrong, and then listen again. And again. And again. And again.
I think one of the main differences, creatively speaking, between this era and the 60s-80s, is something I call, “The Gap.” Basically, “The Gap” is that mysterious place between what I heard coming out of the speakers and what my fingers produced. The gap used to be large, because technology and information didn’t exist for you to know exactly what Jimmy Page, or The Edge, or Alex Lifeson was playing.
So you had to make a creative decision for yourself.
And that creative decision, made inside “The Gap” would lead to new discoveries, new approaches, new thoughts about your instrument.
The thing is, today “The Gap”, at least in the context of learning songs is almost nonexistent. You can dial up on YouTube, or a myriad of web pages, just about every single bit of information about a musician:
- his or her gear
- the gear they used on a particular track
- video of how they played
- the chord charts
- inaccurate versions of the chord charts
- their thought process
The list goes on and on and on.
“The Gap”—the place of mystery and creativity—has shrunk, at least for learning music.
But that doesn’t mean it’s disappeared.
If you’re doing creative work: learning an instrument, writing, simply coming up with new ideas, you must find “The Gap” in your life.
- Where are you going beyond your boundaries?
- Where do you have to make a “best guess” as to what to do next?
- Where can you say, “I’ve gotten all the best information I could find, but I’m still uncertain about XX% of this process?”
Because that’s where your Gap is now. And that’s where you have to move to.